(HELENA) A deadlocked race for a seat on the East Helena City Council is now in the hands of the other council members.
Lewis and Clark County election officials recounted more than 350 ballots by hand Monday afternoon. After the count was over, incumbent council member Don Dahl and challenger Kelly Harris were still tied with 165 votes each.
“I think the results go to show that East Helena had two quality choices, two people that care about the city,” said Harris. “Hopefully we find a fair way forward, and I’m sure Don or me – whoever is chosen – will represent the city well.”
“It goes to show that the city was fairly well split,” Dahl said. “I think we will both do a good job, whoever gets elected.”
Now, state law gives the rest of the city council the authority to decide who takes over the seat. East Helena Mayor James Schell said the council will discuss the law with the city attorney during their regular meeting Tuesday night. He said he expects council members to decide how they will move forward, but not necessarily to actually choose one of the candidates.
The Ward Two campaign was East Helena’s only contested race in this month’s municipal elections, and it has remained remarkably close in the three weeks since. Periodic updates throughout Election Night showed the two men tied or within one vote of each other. At the end of the night, both had 165 votes.
Election officials received two provisional ballots from Ward Two, but they were not able to count either one because they couldn’t confirm the voters’ signatures.
County treasurer, clerk and recorder Paulette DeHart presided over the recount. She said she was pleased that the final hand count showed the initial results, as counted by machine, were correct.
The three county commissioners served as a recount board, responsible for determining whether to count any uncertain ballots. One of the ballots was challenged, but the commissioners decided unanimously that the voter’s intent was clear.
After the final count was completed, both candidates noted that a piece of conventional wisdom had proven true.
“It just goes to show that every vote does count,” said Dahl.
“If you ever think your vote doesn’t count, here’s living proof,” Harris added.